Rearview mirror: Automotive advertising icons Art Fitzpatrick and Van Kaufman

When you think of fine art, perhaps names like Vincent van Gogh or Pablo Picasso come to mind, but by expanding fine art’s definition to include advertising, automotive advertising to be more precise, you will discover men such as Art Fitzpatrick and Van Kaufman, who are masters in their own right. They may not be Vincent van Gogh – to our knowledge they had both ears – but their breathtaking illustrations have appeared in nearly every major magazine in the world and have affected many peoples’ lives.

Fitzpatrick began his career designing cars, and at age 20 designed the classy and luxurious 1937-‘42 Darrin Packard four-door convertible and hardtop sedans. Meanwhile, Van Kaufman was a key animator and director for Walt Disney Studios who eventually moved on to New York’s advertising and editorial world. Fitz, as he’s known, who had been working in automotive advertisement since 1945, greatly admired Kaufman’s work and requested a collaborative effort beginning in 1949. The workflow settled on Fitz illustrating the cars, with Van providing the setting and background. This was the beginning of their 24-year business partnership and a 43-year friendship that lasted until Kaufman’s passing in 1995.

Fitz and Van’s most recognizable work was produced for Pontiac ads beginning in 1959 helping Pontiac climb to the number three sales position between 1960-70, right behind Chevrolet and Ford. S.E. “Bunkie” Knudsen, Pontiac’s General Manager when the pair began working for Pontiac, once said, “Your [Fitz and Van’s] efforts played a great part in bringing us to third place in the industry. Without them our job of moving Pontiac up the ladder would have been impossible.”

Both Fitzpatrick and Kaufman were well known artists of their time, but together they produced a striking and beautiful look in their advertisements that moved people. Few of the original illustrations remain, but the ones that do are highly prized by automotive memorabilia collectors today. Many artists can claim success or even fame, but very few become icons, especially in advertising; and while Fitz passed away in November 2015, their work is still a big deal. Accordingly, the only other way to describe their talent is to share some stunning examples.

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